I clasped the steering wheel until my knuckles ached. Glanced through the rearview mirror to the banner above the door of the banquet hall. Where had the time gone? My 15th high school reunion and still my stomach clenched every time I thought of Matt. Would he be here? He was probably married with kids or fat and balding. Perhaps both. Fat and balding wouldn’t be so bad. Then maybe I’d be able to get him out of my mind...and heart...once and for all. With a deep sigh, I peeled my fingers from the steering wheel and opened the car door. Might as well get this over with.
"Cindy!" One of my closest high school friends rushed to hug me as I stepped into the banquet hall.
"Good to see you, Penny." We hugged, then Penny dragged me over to a tall man with a slight paunch, but the bluest eyes I had ever seen.
"This is my husband, Sean." Penny turned and beamed up at the man, clearly very much in love. I almost envied her.
"Nice to meet you, Sean." I shook hands with him just before being whisked away by yet another friend I had not seen in years.
I glanced through the growing crowd. A dark head bobbed here, another there, but none of them Matt Johnson. Disappointment hit deep in my gut. He wasn’t coming. Maybe it was for the best, but how else would I get over this infuriating schoolgirl crush that wouldn’t let go of me?
After an hour of plastering on a smile, I excused myself and stepped outside. A wide balcony looked down on a garden of manicured bushes and flower-lined pathways. Shadows hid most of the flowers, but I didn’t care. The night sky rather than the garden drew me. A cool breeze lifted the hair from my neck. If only it would lift away these useless feelings.
"Oh, Matt," I whispered into the starry sky, "why aren’t you here?" Sirius blazed back at me, twinkling merrily in its place. How many nights had I spent gazing up at that same bright star, thinking of Matt?
"Cindy?" A deep male voice behind me set my heart to beating that erratic rhythm I still knew so well. I wasn’t a schoolgirl any longer. I could do this. I would face him with courage and dignity.
I took my time turning, all-the-while chanting silently, please, oh please let him be fat and balding.
"Matt." I forced a smile to shaky lips and looked up...farther up than I remembered...into warm brown eyes. In my peripheral vision I noticed a full head of dark brown hair, graying charmingly around the temples. So he hadn’t gone bald. Too bad for me. The laugh lines about his eyes only accentuated the kindness there that had not dimmed through the years. His shoulders seemed broader, his body more honed than before. I sucked in a breath. In front of me stood the adult version of the boy I had loved so desperately, looking even better than when we were kids.
"Penny said I’d find you out here." He stepped next to me and gazed down at the garden.
"You were looking for me?" I cringed the moment the words left my mouth. So much for dignity.
"Well, yes, I was." He chuckled and leaned forward on the railing. "The whole gang was in there...except for you."
"Right." I swallowed down disappointment. "The gang. I had begun to think you weren’t coming."
He sidled closer, bumping me with his elbow. "Looking for me, were you?"
"Of course." I giggled and looked down at my hands, now clenched on the railing. "The whole gang was there, only you were missing."
"I’m glad you missed me," he whispered.
I couldn’t speak, couldn’t come up with anything witty or even safe to say. Seconds, like centuries, ticked by.
"You have missed me, haven’t you?" Uncertainty now laced his voice.
I had blown the dignity part, but I still had courage. Turning to face him, I nodded. "I have, Matt. More than you’ll ever know."
"Is that so?" With a devilish smile he snaked his arm about my waist and pulled me to him. "I have an idea." His head dipped, his lips claimed mine.
I closed my eyes and gave in to the deliciousness of Matt’s kiss.
Knuckles rapped on glass. I blinked.
"Cindy?" A male voice, muffled by the car window, drew me back to reality. I really had to stop reading those $1.99 romance downloads. My weekly fix, a co-worker teasingly called them.
I rolled down the window and smiled. Or tried to. My lips quivered so badly I don’t know how successful I was.
"Matt." Good grief, he still looked good. Smelled good, too.
"It is you." There came his crooked grin...and my erratic heartbeat. "I wasn’t sure. I’ve been standing here a few moments wondering if I should knock on your window or not." His smile slowly faded and a frown creased his brow. "You ok? You look a little dazed."
"I’m ok." Bless the darkness which hid the blush pouring heat to my cheeks.
"Are you going to sit out the whole reunion in your car?" He arched his eyebrows in challenge.
"No, of course not." I laughed and reached for my purse.
"In that case..." He opened the car door and held out his hand. "Allow me."
An electric-like current flowed through me as I placed my hand in his. Strong fingers closed about mine and gently urged me to my feet.
"May I escort you inside?" He pointed toward the banquet hall, but I didn’t miss the appraising glance he gave me or the smile that indicated he liked what he saw.
"Thank you. That would be nice."
"Then let’s go." He placed his hand on the small of my back, and together we walked inside. I smiled to myself. Maybe romantic dreams still came true...even the $1.99 variety.
About the Author: Lianne Bruynell Lopes is a wife and mother of two who currently teaches sixth grade at a small Christian school in southern Florida. An avid history buff, Lianne writes blending her love for the past with an appreciation of good, clean romance. Her first award-winning novel, Shadow of the Wolf, was published in 2002. Lianne is currently pursuing publication for a second novel.